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Wise Blood: A Novel by Flannery…

Wise Blood: A Novel (original 1952; edition 2007)

by Flannery O'Connor

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Title:Wise Blood: A Novel
Authors:Flannery O'Connor
Info:Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2007), Paperback, 248 pages
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Wise Blood: A Novel by Flannery O'Connor (1952)


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I was not expecting this novel to be so derivative of Miss Lonelyhearts (young man with Messiah complex, cast of misfits, even brief appearance by advice columnist, deadpan narration of increasingly bizarre episodes--all that is missing is Shrike, unless that is Hawks), but then it makes a kind of sense to me now to see Nathanael West as a major influence on O'Connor's work generally. This is perhaps a truism of O'Connor criticism, but it was a discovery for me.

I really liked the opening chapter, but by Chapter 8 I was getting restless: it is too monotonous and repetitive for even a short novel to get away with. (I feel the same way about Miss L.) I guess O'Connor was more in her element when painting on a smaller canvas. ( )
  middlemarchhare | Nov 25, 2015 |
There's probably a bright line that runs from William Faulkner to Flannery O'Connor to Cormac McCarthy, but I'll leave that for others to describe. What interests me is the little branch line that runs from O'Connor to Joe R Lansdale, converging, I'm sure, with many lines from the likes of Hemingway and ER Burroughs. Lansdale and Connor have an amazing amount in common: there are similarities of style, voice, setting and preoccupations. Lansdlae, of course, is firmly and unashamedly a genre writer: crime, horror, fantasy or sci fi all mix it up in his novels and stories. Nonetheless, the strangest and most bizarre occurrences in his work are often firmly situated in the quotidian, usually at the point where violence, stupidity and random acts of fate intersect. O'Connor isn't quite as gonzo as Lansdale, and in this book at least, she demonstrates a dedication to her singularity of vision and a commitment to the senseless logic of her character's lives that shows why Lansdale is someone you read for deliciously bizarre entertainment, and O'Connor is someone you read for a vision of the world warped by heat and religion and insanity and guilt into a fun-house reflection of the human condition.

Hazel Motes preaches the word of The Church Without Christ, trying to chase Jesus out of people's lives, but really trying to chase Him out of his own head. He haunts the blind preacher Asa Hawkes, hoping to be saved, and tangles with Asa's twisted daughter, while his own unwanted disciple, Enoch Emery, offers up a new messiah.

This is a fierce, shouted, heated tale that takes some untangling. Naked impulse and unshakeable certainty built on a foundation of loss and fear and death and rejection and guilt rule the lives of Hazel and Enoch, as if they can free themselves from the trap of the world by bluster and rage. The world rarely even acknowledges them, and then only as a nuisance. Whether in the end they achieve some form of freedom or peace of mind is hard to say, but they each make a bloody sacrifice to get there. ( )
  Nigel_Quinlan | Oct 21, 2015 |
Absolutely loved it.. 5 stars are not enough. ( )
  ColinThompson | Oct 18, 2015 |
Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor

Southern gothic! Grotesques! Sinister stuff! Flannery O'Connor! D I S T U R B I N G….yet comic. In so many ways, [Wise Blood] is a hoot, even though its author has a serious intent.

As the novel begins, the main character, Hazel Motes, takes a train to Taulkinham in an unidentified state in the Old South.

Okay, okay!! Just stop a minute. Say that name again. Hazel…Motes. Yes, Hazel is a man, and yes, that's a little weird, but think about that name Motes. Motes. What comes to my mind is the Biblical injunction about a mote in the eye. The novel's author, Flannery O'Connor, is renown for her biblical themes. So I googled "a mote in the eye" and with little effort ended up at Matthew 7:3-5, which in the King James Bible reads:

3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.

Hmmm, is this guy Motes a hypocrite? Does he have impaired vision? Note that by page 3, O'Connor is calling him "Haze," perhaps another indication he doesn't see clearly.

Now where were we? Oh, yeah, on the train with Haze. He's withdrawn and taciturn. Wearing a "glaring blue" suit, the price tag still stapled to a sleeve, and holding a black, wide-brimmed hat, it strikes many observers that he's a preacher. (He denies it.) When a fellow passenger tries to start a conversation, he says to her, "I reckon you think you been redeemed." When she doesn't respond, he repeats, "I reckon you think you been redeemed." A short time later, he's seated in the dining car with a different passenger, to whom he says, "If you've been redeemed, I wouldn't want to be." She laughs, and he asks, "Do you think I believe in Jesus? Well, I wouldn't even if He existed. Even if He was on this train."

Later, sleeping in his berth, he dreams about his grandfather, who was a preacher, a circuit preacher traveling around three Tennessee counties and using his car as a pulpit from which to harangue passers-by. From his grandfather, Haze inherited "a strong confidence in his power to resist evil." He had decided early in his life that he didn't need Jesus; it was "a deep black wordless conviction in him that the way to avoid Jesus was to avoid sin."

Nevertheless, Motes has redemption, Jesus, and preaching weighing on his mind, one way or another. Clearly, it's a focus of this novel. So too is faulty conviction and faulty vision. During his dream, O'Connor tells us that "…the Bible was the only book he read. He didn't read it often but when he did he wore his mother's glasses. They tired his eyes so that after a short time he was always obliged to stop." And as the story progresses, we see how stubborn (and wrong) he is.

Once he gets to Taulkinham, he finds the name and address of a prostitute in the railroad station bathroom, rides to her place in a taxi whose driver insists Motes IS a preacher ("It's a look in your face somewheres"), and is welcomed into her bed ("That's okay, son. Momma don't mind if you ain't a preacher"). The next day Motes walks the streets of Taulkinham where he's ensnared by a teen named Enoch Emery and by a blind man rattling a tin cup while his young female companion distributes leaflets. The former sticks to Haze like a burr. He's new to the town himself, has no friends (though he does have a job as a guard at the city zoo), and thinks everyone in the town looks like "all they want to do is knock you down." The latter asks why Haze is following him, and as he and the girl amble away, he needles and goads him. "I can smell the sin on your breath." And: "I can hear the urge for Jesus in {your} voice." And: "Listen boy, you can't run away from Jesus. Jesus is a fact." And: "Some preacher has left his mark on you. Did you follow for me to take it off or give you another one?"

Asa Hawk is this preacher's name; the girl is, he asserts, his daughter, named Sabbath Lily Hawk. (I like the idea of a blind man being a Hawk; hawks have remark vision.) Haze is very curious about him, as well as about his peculiar "daughter." Before long, Haze has moved into their boarding house, and every day, he knocks at their door but is turned away. Sabbath Lily confides to Asa that she is drawn to Haze's eyes. "I like his eyes…They don't look like they see what he's looking at but they keep on looking."

About this time, Haze buys a derelict rat-colored Essex automobile, and he uses it as a pulpit—just like his grandfather—to preach about the Church without Christ. The first time Enoch sees him preaching from atop the Essex, he hears Haze shout: "The Church Without Christ don't have a jesus but it needs one! It needs a new jesus! It needs one that's all man, without blood to waste, and it needs one that don't look like any other man so you'll look at him. Give me such a jesus, you people." Enoch has a "Eureka moment." He knows where this figure is! He knows it is "the new jesus." He can feel it in his blood because Enoch knows he is blessed with "wise blood." It drives his life, telling him when to act and when to wait. And his blood is surging, driving him to act.

Haze preaches every evening, parking his car right outside a movie theater, so he can address young and old as they emerge from the show. One evening he has a disciple, a heavy-set fellow who expects to pump up the crowd and, in the bargain, collect some donations.The disciple identifies himself as Onnie Jay Holy, but soon acknowledges his name really is Hoover Shoats (need I point out that a shoat is a young pig). When Haze chases him away, he turns up the next night, standing on the sidewalk next to a duplicate of Haze's Essex complete with a Haze doppelganger standing on the hood.

Still ahead is GONGA! Giant Jungle Monarch, the shrunken man-doll from the zoo museum, a landlady in love, quick-lime, a barbed-wire chest-wrap, the acceptance of redemption, and the end of the novel. But if you are at all like me, it will live on in your head, challenging you to sort it all out.
3 vote weird_O | Sep 30, 2015 |
Wise Blood. Flannery O’Connor. 1962. This is O’Connor’s first novel and the first novel I have read by her. It is just as strange and absurd as her short stories which I think I like better. Hazel Moats struggles in vain to rid himself of his faith. After he meets Asa Hawkes, a phony, blind street preacher and his horny daughter, Moats decides to establish his own Church of God without Christ. He also meets Enoch Emery who is even stranger than Hawkes. Emery explains the concept of “wise blood” and shows Hazel a mummified man Emery claims to be a holy child. Like O’Connor’s short stories, this novel is full of symbolism, faith and lack of faith, redemption and damnation. This is not the book to read for anyone who is unfamiliar with O’Connor. I read this title for our book club, and we also read, “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” one of her most famous stories. It was great! ( )
1 vote judithrs | May 18, 2015 |
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Hazel Motes sat at a forward angle on the green plush train seat, looking one minute at the window as if he might want to jump out of it, and the next down the aisle at the other end of the car.
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Hazel Motes returns from the military to find his home abandoned. He is a man in religious crisis. His own grandfather was a revival preacher, yet he has rejected not only faith, but the entire story of Jesus.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0374530637, Paperback)

Wise Blood is a comedy with a fierce, Old Testament soul. Flannery O'Connor has no truck with such newfangled notions as psychology. Driven by forces outside their control, her characters are as one-dimensional--and mysterious--as figures on a frieze. Hazel Motes, for instance, has the temperament of a martyr, even though he spends most of the book trying to get God to go away. As a child he's convinced that "the way to avoid Jesus was to avoid sin." When that doesn't work, and when he returns from Korea determined "to be converted to nothing instead of evil," he still can't go anywhere without being mistaken for a preacher. (Not that the hat and shiny glare-blue suit help.) No matter what Hazel does, Jesus moves "from tree to tree in the back of his mind, a wild ragged figure motioning him to turn around and come off into the dark..."

Adrift after four years in the service, Hazel takes a train to the city of Taulkinham, buys himself a "rat-colored car," and sets about preaching on street corners for the Church Without Christ, "where the blind don't see and the lame don't walk and what's dead stays that way." Along the way he meets Enoch Emery, who's only 18 years old but already works for the city, as well the blind preacher Asa Hawks and his illegitimate daughter, Sabbath Lily. (Her letter to an advice column: "Dear Mary, I am a bastard and a bastard shall not enter the kingdom of heaven as we all know, but I have this personality that makes boys follow me. Do you think I should neck or not?") Subsequent events involve a desiccated, centuries-old dwarf--Gonga the Giant Jungle Monarch--and Hazel's nemesis, Hoover Shoats, who starts the rival Church of Christ Without Christ. If you think these events don't end happily, you might be right.

Wise Blood is a savage satire of America's secular, commercial culture, as well as the humanism it holds so dear ("Dear Sabbath," Mary Brittle writes back, "Light necking is acceptable, but I think your real problem is one of adjustment to the modern world. Perhaps you ought to re-examine your religious values to see if they meet your needs in Life.") But the book's ultimate purpose is Religious, with a capital R--no metaphors, no allusions, just the thing itself in all its fierce glory. When Hazel whispers "I'm not clean," for instance, O'Connor thinks he is perfectly right. For readers unaccustomed to holding low comedy and high seriousness in their heads at the same time, all this can come as something of a shock. Who else could offer an allegory about free will, redemption, and original sin right alongside the more elemental pleasure of witnessing Enoch Emery dress up in a gorilla suit? Nobody else, that's who. And that's OK. More than one Flannery O'Connor in this world might show us more truth than we could bear. --Mary Park

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:20 -0400)

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The passengers on the train to Taulkinham show mixed reactions when Haze questions their belief in Jesus.

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